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After sifting in a pool of doldrum television for 15 years, I finally got a permanent high: my Nancy Drew fix mixed with an eclectic high school crowd, crisp parent actors, and a murder plot as complex as Jon Benet Ramsey. It is a show where teenagers can actually act and aren’t stiff replicas of Paris Hilton or Britney Spears, actors who pause for reflective moments, and apparently a television director who was instrumental in their line delivery.
Pretty Little Liars is a show about five female best friends in Rosewood, Pennsylvania, who are A-listers. At the vortex of their social flaunting is Alison DiLaurentis. By the end of episode 1, season 1, we find out that Alison disappeared and has been missing for one year. After a new student named Maya moves into town into Alison’s old house, Alison’s body is discovered.
The format of the show is riddled with text messages from a stranger who seems to know events as they happen, or sometimes ahead of time. The texts are often sent to the remaining four girls of the clique at the same time. Sometimes the texts are sent individually to only one person in the girl pack and have to do with her own situation. The primary antagonist of the series has a signature of “A.” This person is an anonymous manipulator, knows the lead characters’ deepest and darkest secrets, and uses these secrets to exact revenge for perceived wrongdoings.
Lucy Hale, who plays Aria Montgomery, is a strong actress who fell in love with the high school English teacher before it was discovered by both that he would be her teacher. They met at a pub in the summer, and he was mixed up when she said she would like to major in English. Yet he did not ask her age. Once he finds out that she is only a high school student, they both decide to continue the affair.
Ezra Fitz, the teacher, is charming and level-headed. He is a good mentor to his students, but he is risking way too much to be involved with a high school kid. There are moments in the show when he tries to pull away from the situation and does not. Aria’s mom starts subbing at the school, and the chance of Aria and Ezra being caught becomes higher. Aria one time accidentally texts her mother when she planned to send a text to Ezra.
Overall, each female lead is involved in some personal drama or struggle apart from Alison. Shay Mitchell, who plays Emily Fields, copes with the realization that she is a lesbian, and her military parents must deal with the issue as well when she falls in love with the new girl, Maya. The script writers are capable, and issues like homosexuality can either be handled cheesily or realistically. Shay Mitchell’s acting persona and maturity are able to convince the audience her life choices are real. Another swimmer on her swim team falls for her, which creates chaos and competition with the coach. At one point, the girl threatens to drown Emily by pushing her head back in the pool twice.
Through these scenes and events, the four girls keep getting clues about Alison’s disappearance, as well as text threats. There is a girl named Jenna Marshall who was blinded the night Alison disappeared because Alison was angry and threw something into the garage where she lived, and it started a fire that blinded Jenna. The crime got pegged on Toby Kavanaugh, Jenna’s stepbrother. There is a lot of blaming and finger pointing and suspicion.
Spencer Hastings, one of the four girls, has a brother-in-law named Ian Thomas who is a suspect in Alison’s disappearance. He was seen on a bootleg video that was sent to the girls by “A,” and it is apparent he was with Alison the night of her disappearance. He also pushes her in the video and Alison falls, only showing her limp hand. At one point, Ian plants a trophy on a high school stage where actors are rehearsing. The trophy inside the props has blood on it, so Spencer takes it to the police. The girls discover it was only rat blood on the trophy, and it was planted on the stage so that someone would bring it to police as evidence. The police end up pegging Spencer as a “person of interest” because they find her hair fibers on the sweater Alison wore the night she died.
After watching the first 21 episodes, I was satisfied with the direction of the script, but the mass influx of characters made the storyline hard to follow. There is a kid named Lucas who is the yearbook editor and a nerd and falls in love with Hanna, one of the four girls who is also the homecoming queen. His lighthearted nerdiness turns suspicious when he starts targeting her homecoming king boyfriend with searing insults, and someone begins bribing Hanna to do unethical things to her friends to earn back the money that was stolen from her mom’s house. Lucas suddenly falls off the map and we don’t see him three or four episodes. Another character named Caleb Rivers, a foster kid, betrays Hanna by giving Jenna the blind girl information. He too becomes shady but then clears his name.
The sub-plotting winds the mystery further. The other disturbing thing is that when obvious things take place, like a potential drowning by Emily’s nemesis and the appearance of Ian in Alison’s last living video, the girls are reluctant to go to the police. They feel their secrets are too controversial and may set the police against them. “A,” the mysterious text messenger, always keeps them off balance before they can get closer to finding out Alison’s killer. When Hanna gets hit by a car while chasing “A,” the cops don’t even come into the hospital room to question her. Lucas sneaks in at night and kisses her on the forehead, which creeped me out.
The whole series could have been resolved within the first 22 episodes of the season. However, the show’s popularity soared, and it is now strung out over five seasons with two more renewals. There is also a spin-off show called Rosewood. Ashley Benson, who plays Hanna, is the best actress of the series. She is a natural performer and believable as a vulnerable homecoming queen whose father abandoned the family. Troian Bellisario, daughter of a Hollywood director, is also admirable with her spot-on line delivery. She plays Spencer Hastings and is the brainiac of the group with a 4.0. She moves the plot along with her theories contributing to Alison’s murder. The town police are dorky with an unprofessional nature. The four girls’ interpersonal problems also keep the audience attached as their love interests become more deep and twisted.
This is a good television show for any mom or girl. I don’t know how long it would hold men’s attention, except for the looks of four gorgeous teenagers. Yet the male leads are quite interesting, too. Tyler Blackburn’s edginess and long hair give him a resemblance to Jackson Browne, and Keegan Allen’s square jaw and dreamy light blue eyes are enough to keep a woman swimming forever in wishful dreams.